Saturday 2 September 2017 Kirkwall Orkney

2 Sept 2017 Orkney Hotel Kirkwall Orkney
0955 – 1400 to John o’Groats
1630 – 1930 to Kirkwall

The sun was out and the wind at our backs as we cycled the north coast of Scotland – I’d been picturing rain and heavy north winds and instead we had a blissful day
We took the main road out of Thurso rather than the NCN so that we could be good tourists (and fans of The Crown) and go to Castle Mey.

The road was pretty straightforward – no real hills and northern farms and grass covered dunes. We thought we might see the outward bound cyclists from John o’Groats but it’s a sign of our leisurely schedule that we were already too late in the morning as we went eastward.

Castle Mey is a pretty place, with walled garden and Queen Mother memorabilia. She is remembered very fondly in these parts. Olin was impressed that she had a glass of champagne every night for dinner.

Then, early in the afternoon, in the sun and southern breeze, we reached John O’Groats. Very tiny place, built for tourists, but also very enjoyable to spend time at, watching all the people come through and get their photos at the iconic signpost.

At 1630 we boarded the Pentland Venture for the short trip to Berwick in Orkney. Exactly 4 passengers were on the trip, but we needn’t have feared for the well-being of the service as there was a ship-full of about 150 day trippers waiting to return from the Orkney side.

We cycled into Kirkwall in the evening sun, by now stiff wind at our backs, fields shining green, highland cattle, sheep, and cows, over the Churchill Barriers protecting Skapa Flow, past the Italian chapel built by Italian POWs in the second war; we reached Kirkwall at dusk and found our way to our hotel at the centre of this historic town.


Friday 1 September 2017 Thurso Caithness

1 September 2017 Inn at Y-Not
Thurso Caithness
69.6 km, 17.2 KPH, +940m
0950 – 1600 hrs

It could not have been a better day for cycling the north coast of Scotland, grinding up the hills and flying down the valleys, with the sun out, wind at our backs and the temperature warm.

One massive sandy beach followed another and the aquamarine water looked like the tropics.

Tongue in the morning sun was a tiny perfect village, with the dominant Ben Loyal to the south and a long sand beach at the mouth of the Firth.

At Bettyhill, surfing spot, all the hotels were full last night, a tiny town on a fabulous beach. There’s a road down the Strathnaver from Altnaharra to Bettyhill which makes the trip a little shorter, not on the NCN for some reason, but many cyclists take it.

The Strathnaver was a clearance area exactly 200 years ago – when the landlords decided they liked sheep better than their tenants and kicked everyone off. It was a terrible time for people who had lived there for 400 years or more. Many came to Canada, prospered, and built this country, but its hard to imagine how heartbreaking it would have been at the time. You can still see the outlines of the homes in the heather.

Thurso is supported by a decommissioned nuclear plant, wind farms, battery plant, and a steady supply of LEJOGers.

Locally sourced food at Le Bistro, all very friendly and good. The 11 year old LEJOGer and dad who we last met climbing the pass over to Dalwhinnie were here and joined us for a drink.

Thursday 31 August 2017 Tongue, SutherlandĀ 

Thurs 31 Aug 2017
Tongue Hotel, Tongue
61.1, 17.3kph, +465
1050 – 1615

We had the most spectacular day cycling today, so fabulously beautiful, amazing scenery, rivers, streams and high mountains in the sun.

We had to stop every few minutes for photos and to drink it all in.

The route was straightforward, following NCN route 1, no wayfinding issues. We had lunch at the Crask Inn, the most remote pub in Britain. The weather has been sun and clouds and wind, with the occasional shower. Wind in our faces most of the day, but only one short shower.

It was sunny and warm(ish) at Altanharra, which recorded the coldest temperature in Britain 20 hrs ago. Up and over the hill, and the mountains came into view in the sunshine. In the Highlands you can see for miles, unlike cycling in Canada where you’d have to be above the treeline to see such a distance.

Our route took us around Ben Loyal and along Loch Loyal, looking at heather and creeks and vast distances.

What a day!

Tongue is a perfect little village, sitting on the edge of the Kyle of Tongue.

Wednesday 30 August 2017 Lairg Sutherland

30 August 2017
The Old Dairy, Lairg
85.2 km, 16.7kph, +777m
1000 – 1715

Stayed close to National Cycle Network/ Sustrans route today, over the Moray Firth on the windy Kessock bridge. We stayed on the upper road, skipping the little town of Kessock, and past Dingwall to the Cornerstone at Evanton, a little coffee shop/ community meeting place/ repository of local history. An RAF training site was nearby before and during the war.

Up and over a second big hill with massive views out over the Firth of Dornoch and to the east. Oil rigs and industry in the harbours.

A real bonus at the end of the day was the ride up the River Shin and the falls of Shin. The road was next to the river for quite a distance, including by the salmon interpretation centre and people viewing the salmon returning up the river.

It opened into highland farms and the now-quiet river in the evening sun. A perfect entry into the little town of Lairg and our apartment at the Old Dairy, which we loved and recommend.

Tuesday 29 August 2017 Inverness

Tuesday 29 August 2017
Columba Hotel, Inverness
65.2, 17.7, +477m
11.00 – 1730

National cycle route 7 all day, stiff breeze in our faces all day, mostly good weather with one shower.

First stop at the 300 year old pack horse bridge at Carrbridge. We’re not meeting many other LEJOGers on the 4 week plan that we’re on – allows us shorter days and more looking at the sights.

Then up and over the 405m pass at Slochd on the old highway, good route for bikes.

We communed with the ancients at the prehistoric cemetery Balnuaran of Clava, and inspected the troops at Culloden. Bonnie Prince C still on the losing side, though Duke of Cumberland remains the villain of the piece.

The route into Inverness was disappointing – too complicated and nothing of interest through the suburbs. Inverness itself looked less prosperous than many places we have been, but we had a beautiful dinner at Rocpool and jazz until 10.30 at the bar next door, with a group of local dance students jitterbugging away.

Monday 28 August 2017 Nethy Bridge

Monday 28 August 2017, Nethy Bridge, Highlands
41 km, 20.8kph, +240m
0945 – 1245 hrs

Our rest day today in Nethy Bridge took us a bit of a ride before we got off the bikes.

Continuing on NCR 7, we made an early stop at Ruthven Barracks, which sits on a hill with a 360 view.

It was a minor battle site in 1745-6 when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s force went through one way, and was held off, then came back again and the garrison handed it over. Did the Jacobites no good though as they lost at Culloden not long after.
We enjoyed a warm day, easy route, and wind at our backs to Nethy Bridge, where we’re staying with friends Richard and Patricia.

Richard gave us the grand tour of the area, castles, Thomas Telford bridges, distilleries, moors, heather, sheep, peat, highland cattle, gravel pit, and the site of the manufacture of every Walker shortbread consumed.

Sunday 27 August 2017 KingussieĀ 

27 August 2017
Duke of Gordon Hotel, Kingussie
73.3, 17.6kph, +538m
1040 – 1615

Into the Highlands today, continuing along Route 7. Today turned out to be easy, a high climb, but gradual as we followed the River Garry to Drumochter Pass, the highest point on the national cycle route in Scotland.

It was a warm day, the heather glowing and the views stunning.

Easy ride down into Kingussie with a quick stop at Dalwhinnie Distillery to have a look and buy some product.